Thompson's Exit

The saga of teacher Anne Thompson is coming to an end.  She will be leaving Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in a few weeks, several months shy of her planned retirement.  

If you’ve followed her saga, you know Thompson is not ending her career where she spent much of it, having been involuntarily transferred from Chapel Hill High School to Carrboro High School in time for the beginning of this school year.  She fought the transfer, along with colleague Bert Wartski, all the way to the courthouse and lost.  

I heard from Ms. Thompson’s attorney, Trey Tanner, since I posted this who offered the following clarification:  “Ms. Thompson actually did not fight the transfer all the way to the courthouse and lose … she fought the transfer into the courhouse, had an unfavorable ruling at a preliminary stage and then dismissed her appeal, essentially withdrawing it from court before it was ever heard … in other words, it was more of a forfeit than a loss.

1. Superintendent Forcella decided to invluntarily transfer [sic] –the decision was appealed to the School Board
2. The School Board upheld the decision of the Superintendent –this decision was appealed by Petition to the Superior Court
3. A Motion to Stay the transfer was filed to keep Ms. Thompson and Mr. Wartski at CHHS while the appeal was pending … there was a hearing on this Motion but it was not a hearing on the appeal itself
4. The Motion to Stay was denied –this was not a decision on the merits of the appeal itself and the fact that the Motion was denied has no impact on the ultimate determination of the appeal
5. Ms. Thompson elected to withdraw her appeal –thus the merits of the appeal were never heard

The point of this column is not to again question the transfer, nor to again wonder why so little has been heard from the administration or the elected members of the school board, but to look at what happened to a long-serving and, by all accounts, dedicated teacher during her last year in the classroom.  

Anne Thompson says she was transferred to a position that did not include a classroom.  We all know schools have to be strategic in managing space so a “floating” teacher with a cart full of materials is not unusual.  But to do that to a teacher with more than 2-dozen years of experience and one year from retirement seems to be at best unthinking and at worst, vengeful.  

Is anyone in charge of this debacle thinking of the lesson given to the students who are watching from within two high schools, not to mention the legion of alumni who have spoken out on Thompson’s behalf?  Here’s the lesson I see from the sidelines, having no child near any of those categories:  

Work hard, give lots of years, be admired, speak up for yourself and you will be punished.

Is that the education our high taxes want to help provide?  

During the throes of her struggle to not leave CHHS when the school board rejected her appeal and withheld any explanation due to personnel issues, Thompson wrote to me and offered to waive her right to the confidentiality in her personnel file.   While I always believe there is more than one side to every story and usually more than two, in this case, we’ve all yet to hear even the second one.  

Even worse, as this teacher’s career is forced to an ignominious end, we’ve all yet to hear even a “thank you.” 


What do you think?  At this point, can any of this be un-done? Leave your thoughts below or write to me at

Follow-up Questions: Towing, Teachers, & Opportunity Cost

Word that Chapel Hill is going to continue the legal fight and appeal a judge’s ruling against a planned cell phone ban (including hands-free use) and a towing ordinance prompts a few questions:

First of all, I keep hearing and reading that downtown businesses must use towing companies and aggressive towing tactics in order to maintain spaces for their patrons.  If this is the reason, why does towing persist after the business has closed?  Why not resume it 30 minutes prior to opening?  Again, I ask, what’s in it for the businesses?  They not only allow it; they encourage it.  

Now to the appeal of the cell phone ban.  A recent Chapelboro news story quotes Chapel Hill Town Council member Penny Rich as saying town attorney Ralph Karpinos told the council the legal battle won’t incur any additional cost (emphasis mine) as it will all be taken care of by in-house attorneys.  I had written about the costs of pursuing this ban under my “Savvy Spender” banner, saying I believe the town has better things on which to spend my money. That was based on a pre-vote opinion from the N.C. Attorney General that the town would not prevail in court.  

I was no academic star in my required economics courses but I do remember the concept of opportunity cost.  Forgive my inability to convey this elegantly but as I understand it, opportunity cost is what one gives up when one chooses an alternative course of action.  So while the town may not incur any additional cost by using outside counsel, there clearly is some sort of cost in what else town attorneys won’t be doing.  In other words, it’s highly unlikely they’d be sitting around doing nothing if they were not tasked with pursuing this so, as a taxpayer, I’d love to know what’s not getting done instead?  That’s my cost.

Finally the start of school brings us to what is apparently the denouement in the saga of the involuntarily transferred teachers Anne Thompson and Bert Wartski.   They fought all the way to the courthouse and lost and are now leaving their longtime base at Chapel Hill High School.  I ask again the question I raised weeks ago:  In the case of Anne Thompson,  who is planning to retire after this coming school year and who just suffered the loss of her husband, why is there no mercy, no leniency, no ability to stand down?  

My exclusion of Mr. Wartski is due only to the more lamentable circumstances of Mrs. Thompson.  Shouldn’t Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools demonstrate a kindness that leadership must want to see from its students?   What a great way to set an example that the bigger kid doesn’t always have to win. 

If you can answer any of these questions, write to me at

Open Letter To Teachers

An open letter to all teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro city school system:

As you may have read or heard, Bert Wartski and I are appealing our involuntary transfers from Chapel Hill High School.  As colleagues, we want to assure each of you that in all honesty, neither of us has been given any documented or substantiated reason for our transfer. We understand that 13 other teachers have been involuntarily transferred as well, but since we have heard from only two others, we really cannot speak for everyone in this situation. 

While we have been dealing with the arduous process of trying to stop the transfers, each of us has become increasingly aware that what is happening to us could happen to any teacher in the system. Right now, board policy 7440 allows involuntary transfers unless the decision to transfer is “arbitrary, capricious, political, or discriminatory.”  We feel that all of these conditions apply to our proposed transfers; further, we fear that as a result of our protest, these safeguards could be eliminated and a very dangerous precedent could be established. 

Anonymous complaints about you could cause you to be a victim of an involuntary transfer, and you would have no recourse. Hence, we ask you to stand with us as we work to block the board and the superintendent from transferring us so unfairly. 

Our motion to stay the transfers will be heard at the Orange County Court House, August 17, at 2:00 in Superior Court.  Since Friday is an optional teacher workday, please consider spending your lunch hour with us. Join us on the steps of the Old Court House in Hillsborough at 1:30.  Whether you support our particular cases or not, your actions could help prevent this kind of unfair treatment from happening to a colleague or to you. If Bert and I win, we ALL win: the teachers, the students, and the community.


Anne Thompson

Fighting This Transfer

Dear Editor,

My name is Bert Wartski.  As I await the Superior Court Hearing (August 17th at 2 pm at the Old Hillsborough Court House), I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has written letters, given speeches, provided testimonials, talked about, Facebook-ed, and spent their time and energy to stop my transfer and that of Anne Thompson.  

The response of the parents, students, and the community has been overwhelming and very humbling.

I am saddened to think that my time at CHHS might be over. For the past 19 years, I have made CHHS my home.  I have done my best to provide the best educational experience in my classroom and at CHHS.  I’ve been told that my involuntary transfer is not about the teaching.  As an educator and parent, I can think of nothing else it should be about.

I’ve been asked why I’ve been fighting this transfer.

To those outside of the CHHS community, the opportunity to move to a “better school” should be taken immediately.  Why complain?

For the past 19 years, I have become part of a community.  My blood bleeds black and gold.  I love CHHS and through the course of my tenure, I have worked to make it a better school.  I am part of the Tiger Family.  I have a desire to finish out my career at CHHS, continue to teach the curriculum I have built during 18 of my 25 years in the classroom, and have my daughter attend the school that I have grown to care so much about.

This is what I don’t think the central office understands.  The CULTURE of CHHS goes beyond being a school.  We are Tigers.  For better or worse, for rich and for poor…we are a family.  To think that after 19 years I will no longer be part of the family, is what hurts.

In closing, I would like to thank you again.  In this summer with its many ups and downs, you have all provided a lot of support.  Come join us on August 17th at 2 pm at the Old Courthouse in Hillsborough.

Bert Wartski

Cell Phones, Towing, & Teachers

Back in April I wrote about the Chapel Hill Town Council (CHTC) banning both handheld and hands-free cell phone use by drivers (with limited exceptions).  

The point of my column then was not to root for distracted driving; it was to point out the pointless use of public (staff) time and money in defending this law, when the CHTC had an opinion from the North Carolina Attorney General’s office that it may be unenforceable.  Yes, the opinion said “may”.  It didn’t say “not”.  But with the scales of justice tipped against you and lots of other priorities facing the town, I questioned the decision.  

Turns out both the Attorney General’s office and I were right.  Don’t you just love how I managed to puff myself up there?  Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson’s reason was in line with the AG’s office opinion: the town can’t enact laws where state law is comprehensive.  So, given that ruling, is this the finale of this folly?  Or should I prepare to stop listening to WCHL in the morning because that Ron Stutts fellow can be awfully distracting.  

In that same ruling Judge Hudson struck down the town’s law regulating towing.  His reasoning there was that it violates the state constitution by regulating trade.  

In Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s response (at bottom of this link) to the double loss in court, he spoke of only one: the towing ordinance.  I’m hoping his targeted response indicates his view of the town’s future priorities.

As to the towing regulations, we rarely hear from the businesses that contract with the towing companies.  Clearly the property owners must agree to allow cameras affixed so the towing companies can pounce the minute someone places a toe off property.  Do the property owners get a piece of the fee car owners must pay?  That would explain why they believe it’s in their businesses’ best interests to allow such practices.  I wonder if we polled those who’ve had their car towed from a downtown business if we’d find many of them had eagerly returned to spend money downtown, and more pointedly, to the business from which their car was towed.  Perhaps the business owners who encourage, condone and contract with towing companies are cutting off their proverbial noses?  Unless of course they are making money from the towing.  

Let me know what you think of my many opinions by writing to me at

p.s.  I continue to receive an extraordinary amount of email regarding my previous columns (one and two) on the involuntary transfer of Chapel Hill High School teachers Anne Thompson and Bert Wartski.  Among the correspondents, Mr. Wartski, who has offered to waive his confidentiality rights with regard to the Chapel Hill Carrboro City School Board’s review and subsequent denial of his appeal of the transfer.  So, can we learn the whole story now?

Teacher Transfers: Not Going Away

I have been writing this column for well over a year.  I’ve written on topics as mundane as grocery shopping and as critical as the state education budget.  I’ve written about highly emotional topics such as Amendment One.  Following the posting of some of these, I’ve heard from a few of you.  But after my last post, on the transfer of Chapel Hill High School teacher Anne Thompson, I heard from an enormous number of people very upset by her situation.

The notes I received were not cut-and-pasted bits of a coordinated campaign either.  They were heartfelt pleas for a closer look at what could have led to the decision and to ask for accountability from school leadership.  Some notes were from parents and some were from within the school system and all were determined to battle an injustice.

When I wrote of Mrs. Thompson last week, only her appeal to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board had been denied.  I wrote of what I saw as a perfect opportunity for compassion to be shown to a- by all accounts- fabulous teacher who wanted to teach one more year before retiring in the school that had been her home for 26 years, including during the year she recently lost her husband. 

Since then, you may have heard, another teacher’s appeal was denied.  Bert Wartski is also being transferred involuntarily and with the second denied appeal, I started to wonder if the school board has any history at all of granting an appeal?  Anyone know?  Is the process just for show?  Does anyone ever convince board members that a first pass at a decision was wrong?

There are always at least two sides to every story and thus far personnel issues have been the reason little has been said from school administration and the board.  I wonder if the teachers are allowed to waive confidentiality specific to the details of the transfers and as to what led to the denial of their appeals.  

As I wrote last week, I don’t know these teachers, nor do I have a child in any of the schools being discussed for their futures.  I write only about what I hear and what I read:  a major public outcry that’s not being answered.   People tend to like to know they’ve been heard in general and in this community, when it comes to education, that’s even more true.  And with both teachers being moved to teach new subjects, education itself does not seem to be behind the strategy.

The teachers say they plan to appeal beyond the school board now, to the Superior Court.  The teachers don’t plan to stop fighting, nor do those I heard from.  As I write this it’s August 1st.  The school year is now weeks, not months, away.  It would certainly be swell if someone found a way to retire the rancor before the kids showed up.  

Have any ideas?  Leave a comment below or write to me at

Questions for Superintendent Forcella

July 25, 2012
Dear Mr. Forcella,

I have been following the debate regarding the involuntary transfers of Mr. Wartski and Mrs. Thompson. As a parent who had two children at Chapel Hill High, one in Mr. Wartski’s class and one in Mrs. Thompson’ class, I am confused and concerned about their transfers. Whatever your reasons, your actions and your comments have made these transfers look punitive.

As you are interested in improving the perceived negative culture at Chapel Hill High School, I would have preferred you to start a dialog with the teachers and worked with the teachers rather than removing them. I am a firm believer it is better to be proactive rather than reactive. Your actions give me the perception you and the board are working on a private agenda.

Having been at Chapel Hill High School as a parent for the last eight years, I can think of a number of other teachers who could have been transferred for a variety of reasons. It’s hard for me to understand why you singled out these two. As a parent, the education of students is utmost in my mind, and I fail to understand how these transfers will add to the educational quality of Chapel Hill High or the other two schools as they will be teaching subjects they are unfamiliar with. Change can be a positive catalyst, but to be effective it needs to be introduced in a positive manner.

Based on your most recent letter, I have questions:

“Our classroom and school environments will need to become places where the conversations among teachers and administrators are about instructional improvement. An atmosphere of trust and mutual respect is critical to our success.”

I fail to understand how transferring teachers without explaining why builds an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. Although you repeatedly say this is not a punitive move, your actions and discussion fail to support this. The way the transfers were done fails to build a community of trust and respect. You do not respect the hard work and years of dedication these teachers have made to both Chapel Hill High School and to the community. This lack of respect makes your actions very difficult for me to accept. These moves are not about instructional improvement. How is it instructional improvement to have Mr. Wartski teach AP Environmental Science when he has never taught the course? Once again, change can be good, but it needs to be introduced in a positive way.

“It was clear to me from the depth of these concerns that in order for Chapel Hill High School to realize achievement growth for all students a culture change was necessary.”

I would like to know how transferring two teachers will impact the culture. The implication is that it will affect the culture by sending the message ‘put up or shut up.’ Could you provide information on the nature of these concerns? Culture change takes teamwork and cannot be dictated.

“Many stakeholders at Chapel Hill High School were frustrated with the culture of the school.”

This is a very broad, nebulous statement. Many is a very uninformative number, can you provide numbers of people whom you talked with as well as define whom the stakeholders were. Also, once again what is your definition of ‘culture?’ How has this impacted students’ education?

Could you provide more specific information about the ‘negative culture?’ I just finished having children at CHHS for 8 consecutive years. As with most school environments, there were differences of opinions. However, as a parent, I never perceived a negative environment, nor did my children. It would definitely help me understand your decision if I understood what constitutes a negative environment.

“It is a goal of the district to create collaborative cultures in our schools where everyone feels safe to voice their opinions without fear of reprisal from administration or from their peers.”

Your actions have made it difficult to understand how involuntarily transferring two teachers can create a collaborative culture. The action also carries the implication that it is not safe to voice your opinion. I realize you cannot comment on personnel issues, but both teachers indicate there are no written statements in their files pointing to them as being a negative influence.

“Not at liberty to disclose specifics with regard to each individual transfer situation. Personnel issues are confidential, but in every case School Board policy has been followed.”

I am aware that you cannot discuss personnel issues. However, it appears you are hiding behind this statement, as neither teacher has negative comments in their personnel folders.

“New leadership at the school and with all staff pulling together with a shared vision”

I do hope Lincoln Center can hire a principal who has leadership qualities. Don’t assume the turnover rate of principals is all due to the high-school culture; perhaps you also need to look at the culture at Lincoln Center. It will be hard for all staff to pull together when the fear of transfer is hanging over their heads.

Both you and the School Board have an obligation to the students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to provide the best educational opportunities possible. Do these transfers positively impact the education of students in all three high schools?

How will these two teachers integrate themselves into the ‘culture’ of their new school if they have been marked as being negative? After their years of teaching, is this a positive acknowledgement for them?

The ‘perceived negative culture’ would have taken years in the making, so Lincoln Center and the School Board own some responsibility for allowing it to continue and grow.  Why should two teachers be made to pay the price for something not their making?

Cathryn W. Chiesa

Teaching Beyond the Classroom

This column will add to a main problem with what is frequently written online:  I’m about to write my opinion of something about which I have almost no firsthand knowledge.  Kind of makes you want to click something else, doesn’t it?

I’m writing about the apparently pending transfer of Chapel Hill High School English teacher Anne Thompson.  I don’t know the teacher, I don’t have a child at the school, nor at her intended destination of Carrboro High.  I am not a member of any group that has fought the transfer nor have I been affiliated with the school board or administration in any way.  

Now that we’re clear on the many reasons I have absolutely no standing to have an opinion, here’s why I do:  I have a heart and compassion.  

From what I read on, this teacher is one year away from retirement and is still recovering from the death of her husband this past year.  Thompson has taught at CHHS for 26 years and to not be able to finish her career there seems as if it was decided by machines, not people.  If there were any reason to think we were talking about a teacher who was phoning it in, a lame duck, I certainly wouldn’t want any child at any school to receive less than the best but that doesn’t appear to be anyone’s concern about Anne Thompson.  

There are differing opinions/claims over whether this transfer has to do with some negative interactions Thompson may have had with the now-retired principal of CHHS.  Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe she did.  Maybe she didn’t.  He’s not there anymore.  She has one more year to teach.  Students seem to love her.  She’s being asked to learn new systems and a new curriculum in a place where she has no support system.  No one is at his/her most effective when new; it’s a trade-off that’s worth it when the change is one that’s going to build and vest over years.  That’s clearly not the case here.

So what’s the business case for this transfer?  If there is a business case for this, or an educational case, I’ve not heard it.  If there is a human case for it, I can’t find it.  Are our schools teaching children to be kind, to consider all circumstances, to look beyond the obvious?  Or are we teaching them to be rigid and punitive?  In my uneducated view of this case, there’s a beautiful opportunity for school system leadership to show the strength inherent in flexibility.  That would be some savvy spending of power!

Agree, disagree?  Leave a comment below or write to me at